December 28, 2008
John 17:17 (ESV)
Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.
We live in a world full of lies. During election period, we don’t know who among the candidates are telling the truth. The Senate investigation on government anomalies proves that men are prone to lying. Children learn lying from their parents. Men cheat on their income tax returns. They make excuses that were not true. Witnesses in the law court contradict each other.
Even when men seek to tell or teach what is true, they are still prone to make errors. They may possess wrong information. They may make erroneous judgments. The textbooks your children are using in school contain errors – historical, scientific, grammatical, and more importantly, theological. We may tell a friend a story we believe to be true but in reality, erroneous. Doctors may tell you that you have cancer when in reality you do not have.
We know that the world is full of lies. We know that human beings, although they want to speak what is true, can communicate what is false. As Christians, we know and believe that the Bible speaks all the truth that we need for living a life of godliness. But where do we turn to for guidance in living? Our belief in the truthfulness of God and his word is betrayed by our lives that is not transformed accordingly. And why is that? Because we do not spend as much time as necessary for soaking ourselves with the truth of God’s words. It is no wonder our lives are not shaped by the truth. We walk in ways contrary to the Word of God.
I want to encourage you today, before the year ends, to resolve to soak yourselves with the truth of God’s Words. Our text tells us that we can depend on the Bible for our ongoing sanctification because our God is a truthful God and his words are entirely true. His death imminent, Jesus said in his prayer to the Father, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” I want us to concentrate on this short verse and see the doctrine of the truthfulness of God and his words (“your word is truth”) and its practical application (“sanctify them in the truth”).
The Truthfulness of God and His Words
But first the doctrine. Jesus’ statement to the Father, “Your word is truth,” contains a massive amount of theological reflection. What is “truth”? According to Hodge, the basic idea of truth in Greek is openness, that is, what is concealed. Like opening one’s door to see what really is inside the room, in contrast to what is just imagined. In Hebrew, the primary idea of truth is “that which sustains, which does not fail, or disappoint our expectations.” Like a chair, you expect its legs to support your weight even when you’re heavy. When we say God is true, what he reveals about himself is what it really is and it can be trusted and relied upon.
God is the God of truth. Truth is the embodiment of his character. Everything that is true either is in God or comes from God (Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity). He is called the “God of truth” in Isaiah 65:16. He is not just the “true God” (John 17:3) in contradistinction to the false, imaginary and non-existent gods. He is the God of truth. It means that everything that is true originated from God. If something is untrue it is either from the devil, who “has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44) or from men. Now, to whom do we rely upon, men or God?
God’s revelation about himself are true and trustworthy. His ultimate revelation of himself can be found in his Son Jesus Christ. Jesus is the truth. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (1:14). Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (14:6). When you look to Jesus, you can know everything that God reveals about himself. Where do you turn to in order to know the truths about God? Look to Jesus and you will see God, the God of truth.
Everything we need to know about God is revealed in the written Word, the Bible. The Bible is God’s unerring Word. Because it is “inspired (literally, ‘breathed out’) by God” (2 Tim. 3:16), it follows that everything that it says is true and without error. God will not tell a lie. God will not mislead or deceive us. The whole Bible can be relied upon, “The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures forever” (Psa. 119:160). Every single word in the original manuscripts of the Bible are the words God intended to communicate to us, “Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him” (Pro. 30:5). Do you really believe that the book you are holding in your hands contain the very words of God, without error and truthful in all that it affirms? If you do, why do you spend more time reading newspapers, or fiction novels, or watching TV or movies, or surfing the Internet than with the Book of Truth?
One of the reasons is because we do not believe in the power of God’s truth to transform us to someone that God wants us to be. Truth transforms. We need to realize that. Now, after seeing the meaning of Jesus’ statement “your word is truth” we come now to the practical application of this doctrine expressed in his request to God, “Sanctify them in the truth.”
Jesus’ Desire: Our Sanctification
Jesus desires our sanctification. Jesus’ prayer for the apostles and, by implication, to other believers is an expression of this desire for us: “Sanctify them in the truth.” What does “sanctify” mean? The basic meaning of this word is “to set apart for special use.” It is from the same word we translate “holy.” Jesus wants to set us apart. We are still “in the world” (John 17:11). But we are not of the world (17:14, 16). We live here but we do not belong here. We must be set apart from its values and practices that are not pleasing to God.
The communication media does not care what you will become. They just want you to be entertained so that they make profits. They will feed you with lies and non-sense to make money. Not so with Jesus. He wants your transformation. Have you not realized that every time you did not care what you will become you are going against God’s purpose for your life? He wants what is good for you but you want a different thing. You are like a child rebelling against your parents who wants you to be educated by sending you to school but you don’t want to go and is content on playing computer games. What will you become ten years from now if you will only desire spending your time idly?
May your desire for yourself, for your children, for your students, and for your disciples be the same as Jesus’ – to be transformed in his likeness and be different from the world who do not know God. But how is it going to happen?
The Means of Sanctification: Being in the Truth
The means we are to be sanctified is by being “in the truth.” What does it mean to be “in the truth”? It means staying within the bounds of God’s Word, letting yourself be saturated by it, fed by it, and nourished by it. Being in the truth means that you will not let anything other than the Word of God guide the way you live. If something is contrary to God’s Word you will not believe it, trust in it or obey it. You will stay in the truth.
You put your laundry in the washing machine. You will not remove it after 15 minutes if the machine says it should be an hour. You are baking bread in the oven. You will not remove it after 10 minutes if you need one hour to make the bread edible. God wants you in the truth all the days of your life so that you will be washed by the words of Jesus and cleansed from all your iniquities. You need the heat of the fire of God’s words to purify you and prepare you to be blameless before him at his coming. Take yourself outside the truth and you will not see change in your life – or rather, you will be changed in the likeness of someone or something else but not Christ.
What do we need to do, then, to be “in the truth” and therefore, be sanctified?
First, make sure you have the truth of the gospel in you. This gospel is the “word of truth” (Eph. 1:13; Col. 1:5; Jam. 1:18) that God uses to bring to salvation those who once walked in darkness and follow the desires of their own flesh. When this truth is not taken to heart, no true transformation will take place in anyone who will do what is prescribed in the Word. The gospel which saved us is also the gospel that transforms us. In the words of Jerry Bridges, we need to “preach the gospel to ourselves every day.” Like Paul in 1 Cor. 15:1-5:
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you–unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.
Second, read the Bible with eyes seeking for truths about God, ourselves, and our relationship with him, with hearts receptive to his word and with hands ready to do what the Lord wants us to do. I don’t think many Christians really believe that the Bible is God’s Word to them, telling them truths about him and his plan for the world. Because if they do, they will treat it like it really is. If you will make a New Year’s resolution, I will suggest this: “I will resolve to read the Bible everyday and finish reading the entire Bible in one year (or two years).” And as you read, be attentive to what God is saying to you. You need God’s truths everyday to fight the lies of Satan. Satan do not rest or sleep in deceiving us, we must not rest in meditating on the truths of God’s Word either. We must be continually transformed by the renewal of our minds (Rom. 12:2), feeding ourselves with its truths.
I have a special call to parents regarding your duty in raising your children: feed your child with God’s truths. If you want your child to walk in the fear of the Lord, in godliness, in humility, and in service to others, teach your child the truths of God’s words. Don’t entrust your child’s entire education to the school. Don’t think that by sending your child to Sunday School, you have done enough. You are the primary teacher of your child. When was the last time you taught your child about God? When was the last time you read the Bible before taking your meals? When was the last time you prayed for your child’s growth in his faith? If you have not yet given your child a gift for Christmas, maybe giving him a new Bible will be a perfect gift.
My commitment as pastor of this church is first, to study the Word with diligence and apply it to my life. Then teach it to you so that we will be transformed together. I will not deny you the truths that you need to know. I will not just tell you entertaining stories or heart-warming illustrations. I will preach to you Jesus Christ and him crucified. I will proclaim the truth even when it hurts because I know that you need it badly.
Some of you have found from previous experience that disciplining one’s self to study the Word of God is hard. Some of you are not seeing the changes you are expecting. Where can we find the assurance that Jesus’ desire for us – that we be transformed in his image – will be realized? Where do we find the strength to persevere in using God’s appointed means like Bible reading and meditation? The answer can also be found in the prayer of Jesus in our text.
The Agent of Sanctification: The God of Truth
Jesus’ prayer implies that Jesus believes that our sanctification will be accomplished not just by any human means but by God’s divine work through the Holy Spirit. He is asking God, “Sanctify them.” This is a request to God to do all things necessary for the believers’ sanctification. Sanctification is ultimately God’s work, not ours. As we believe what is true we will be changed by the Spirit of God. “But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth” (2 Thes. 2:13).
When we read his Word, make sure you ask him to change you through the Word. Ask him to change your tongue to speak truth instead of gossips and lies. Ask him to change your heart to be more forgiving to others. Ask him to accomplish his purposes for your life. Pray like Augustine, “Command what you will and will what you command.”
Our God is a truthful God. We can rely upon his words in the Bible to transform us into persons that are radically different from the world. May the light of the truth of God shine in our lives. And pray like the psalmist, “Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name” (86:11).